So, you’ve been drinking coffee with milk and sugar your whole life and suddenly a feeling in the back of your mind emerges: “Some people really like black coffee... could I be one of those people?”
While I would never deny the deliciousness of a sweet and creamy cup, there is indeed a really good chance you would like black coffee. If you (like many of the beginner baristas I’ve trained!) need further convincing, let’s start with a few reasons why you might want to learn how to drink black coffee.
Reason 1: Black coffee tastes good
If you’re thinking about drinking black coffee as some sort of self-sacrifice, don’t! If there are health reasons for you to cut out dairy or sugar that’s cool, but I promise that most of us folks who prefer our coffee black really do like how our coffee tastes black.
Milk and sugar are great at taking the edge off a coffee, but the coffees I love — especially when brewed really well — aren’t harsh to begin, they’re sweet, bright, and dynamic in a way that milk can cover up. If I’m drinking coffee that does seem harsh and bitter (say on an airplane), I often do throw in milk or cream — it’s not about drinking black coffee on principle, it’s about doing it when it’s delicious to do so.
Reason 2: Learning is fun
Adding things to coffee makes different coffees taste more similar to each other. Will a few drops of milk make a super-earthy Sumatra taste exactly the same as a high-acid, lemony Colombia? Definitely not. But the more milk you add, the more those differences will flatten out, eventually leaving you with two cups of coffee that both basically taste like coffee ice cream.
And that’s delicious, but if you’re buying specific coffees with interesting-looking flavor notes on the bags, it’ll be easier for you to taste those flavor notes without that milk to cut through. And if you think it might be fun to develop your coffee drinking palate, it’ll be a little tough to do so without switching to black coffee.
Reason 3: Agent Cooper does on Twin Peaks
Your local baristas are probably very lovely people, but as a former one myself I can tell you it isn’t worth it to switch up your drink order just to impress us. However, if you want to drink black coffee because you want to impress an imagined version of Kyle McLachlan should you ever run into him, I can’t object.
Ok, you’ve decided you’re going to do it, black coffee that is, but you’re used to your milky cup and want this transition to go smoothly. There are a few different ways to go about it, all about equally effective.
How to drink black coffee — the gradual approach
As with any major life change (and we think any change to your coffee drinking counts as a major life change), one way to do it is to step down slowly. You can of course do this by putting less and less milk in your coffee, but with some easy measurement you can turn it into a slightly more scientific tasting exercise:
- Brew a pot of coffee, French press, or chemex and get out four mugs
- Pour 5 ounces of coffee into each cup
- From left to right, pour 2 ounces of milk (or your favorite milk alternative), 1 ounce, .5 ounces, and nothing into the fourth
- Stir each cup to combine and let cool
- Sip each cup left to right
Obviously the cups will all taste different, but see if you notice the coffee getting more complex the less milk is in your way. Check out the flavor notes on the coffee bag. Do you start to taste them more without milk?
If you do this with a few different coffees and still greatly prefer the milky stuff, that’s cool! But it’ll definitely help you explore why and how black coffee is different.
How to drink black coffee — the deep end approach
A gradual step down makes sense, but the opposite approach is just as valid. And by that I don't just mean cutting out milk, I mean ordering some coffee that’s as far away from generic coffee flavor as possible and seeing how it tastes black. Naturally processed Ethiopian coffee, which many coffee pros including myself cite as their first coffee aha moment, would be a perfect choice. Those are likely to be super-sweet with flavors of blueberry and candy, especially if you err on the side of medium or light roast. If that doesn’t sound appealing, look for coffees with flavors that do sound more up your alley. Brew it up with one of our recipes, find a nice mug to drink it in, get comfy, and enjoy.
No matter how you approach it, I really believe that black coffee made using good beans according to a good recipe, is one of the tastiest things on earth. And if it turns out it’s not your jam and you just feel more comfortable with those soft dairy or oat vibes, so be it!
Drinking coffee should be fun, and if drinking coffee without milk feels like a chore to you, I’m not sure it’s worth it. But interacting directly with all the different flavors in all the different beans is, for me, the most fun thing about coffee. And that’s the best reason I can think of to do it!